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The rice-bird, ice bunting, or reed bird, the Dolichonyx orizyvorus, an American singing bird. — Webster, 1882

I hear the song of running brooks; I smell the hay and clover / The murmur of a happy throng, With summer brimming over / Comes back to day, from far away; The birds are sweetly singing; / In grassy dells and tangle-fells, The bobolinks are swinging. – Kingsbury County Independent, March 3, 1908.

The bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) would have been a familiar sight and sound to the Ingallses in eastern South Dakota; most of the state is its breeding ground. Building its nest in damp meadows and dense fields, the Big Slough provided natural habitat. While it’s not their preferred nesting site, bobolinks adapted to the loss of native prairie and built their nests in hayfields.

Whether it’s fictional or a true memory of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, the only mention of a bobolink in the Little House books is that its image appeared on Mary Power’s pale green name card. She describes Mary’s card as showing a bobolink “swaying and singing on a spray of goldenrod” (see Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 16, “Name Cards”).

I’ve yet to find an antique name card featuring a bobolink (do you have one?) so I made a digital one using a scan of a bobolink from one vintage trade card and a bit of goldenrod taken from another.


bobolink (LTP 16), see also name card / name-card